Ghost Hunters 6.8: "Inn of the Dead"

Once again, we have a sixth season episode that covers one location for the full hour, and the show is all the better for it. Whether or not this is a concession to the fans or a desire on the part of the team to lessen the number of investigations per year is ultimately a moot point; this format has been successful for many of the other popular shows (“Ghost Adventures” in particular) and the producers seem to understand that some changes are good.

Focusing on one location for an entire episode allows for more time to understand the location itself, more investigation footage, and therefore a better sense of context. Anything that helps the audience understand the perspective of the team is a good thing. I say that for both the fans (who want to get a more in-depth experience) and the skeptics (who should be salivating over the chance to scour over the methodology and assumptions).

A couple of things before turning to the evidence. First, a few people mentioned that they saw some of the reported activity in the footage during the previous episode, and these were things that I specifically criticized as being “off-camera” or otherwise unseen. I haven’t had the chance to go back to the footage in question, but I accept the possibility that I missed something. On the other hand, I would point out that if it was subtle enough that I missed it, it may prove the point that it is questionable enough to exclude as evidence.

Second, this episode reminded me of a conversation with a TAPS member back in the summer of 2006. Some might remember that this was during the transition between the second and third seasons. At that time, it was more or less acknowledged in interviews and articles that Pilgrim Films was pressuring TAPS to limit the television presence to certain team members. (Jason and Grant denied that it was ever anything more than an internal decision, but frankly, they’ve been caught towing the company line more than once.)

At any rate, as part of the larger discussion about the changes to the casting, it was acknowledged by many TAPS members (and I’m not going to exclude anyone on this point) that there was pressure to use certain types of equipment and methods on the show. While it was a discussion about IR thermometer “guns” and so forth at the time, it does make one wonder if this explains the ongoing issues with certain practices on the show today.

For example, longtime readers know that I have issues with the way they use and interpret the K-II Meter and FLIR technology on the show. I know some people swear by the results, but there are definite technical aspects that come into play and easily invalidate the data. Add to that the unfortunate observation that Jason and Grant tend to play up questionable evidence as paranormal on a regular basis, especially the K-II and FLIR “evidence”, and it paints a picture.

What if this equipment is used less because of its value to paranormal investigation and more for its value as visual entertainment? Things like the K-II, the FLIR footage, the “flashlight” test in this episode…it all lends itself to the visual medium far better than the equipment that serves a more scientific purpose. Also, from a more cynical point of view, the high potential for false positives provides plenty of opportunity for “evidence” to present.

All things being equal, if I wasn’t an investigator, I probably wouldn’t care. It’s entertainment. But as an investigator, I see the effect it has on the field as a whole, and it’s not good. How many investigators start out by grabbing whatever they see on “Ghost Hunters”, thinking that’s the right set of tools for the trade? How many investigators have K-II meters, IR thermometer “guns”, want to save up for the thermal camera, and unscrew their flashlights because they think it will give them solid evidence?

I’ve said before that I have the pleasure of working with a lot of different groups in my area, so I can say, based on first-hand observation, that it’s a huge percentage. And that makes it very hard to overcome the perception that these are, in fact, scientific tools for paranormal investigation. Meanwhile, shows like “Ghost Lab” perpetuate these errors by portraying themselves as even more scientific than TAPS, and then displaying even more technical ignorance!

It wasn’t just this episode (and the previous one, for that matter) that brought all of this to mind. Syfy has been promoting something they call a “Ghost Hunters Academy Kit” all over the place. It’s a case with a flashlight, K-II meter, and IR thermometer gun. I wrote a detailed review of the product, explaining the issues, and of course it never made it through moderation.

Why would they post a review that pans the equipment as inappropriate for its suggested use? They stand to make a killing! It’s the exact same reason that Chris Fleming continues to sell equipment on his website that is scientifically proven to produce mostly false positives. (Sorry, Chris, but if you’re going to advertise that junk all over social networking sites, you invite direct criticism.)

Doubtless some are wondering: what does this have to do with this particular episode? Well, the highlight of this episode is the incident with Kris and Amy involving a flashlight and footsteps. As presented in the episode, the flashlight appears to light up and respond to specific questions, and there are loud footsteps from the empty floor above that seem to coincide with the “communication”.

I mentioned in the review for the previous episode why the “flashlight test” is inherently flawed. If you just barely unscrew a flashlight, there remains enough potential for electric charge to arc between the battery and the bulb. In other words, the flashlight will appear to turn itself on, the electrical charge that built up will discharge, and then it will turn itself back off. This will continue for quite some time. The rate of discharge will depend on the distance between battery and bulb, room temperature, and relative humidity.

So in terms of the footage, it’s hard to say that the results with the flashlight are meaningful. Even if one was inclined to believe that such activity could have a paranormal origin, there is no data available to distinguish between the scientific principle and some unexpected phenomena. The timing of the supposed responses was well within the realm of subjective interpretation. When the scientific principle is sufficient to explain the observed data, there’s no basis for concluding something is paranormal in origin! (A cardinal TAPS rule, as I recall.)

On the other hand, as I’ve said before, it’s hard for me to dismiss the footsteps, because I’ve encountered that sort of thing in recent investigations. I wouldn’t ever say that it was definitive evidence of paranormal activity, but it does happen and the usual explanations don’t always apply. So I’m inclined to believe that they really did hear the footsteps (they were audible, in any case).

But the problem as I see it is the presentation of the two items as a whole. As shown, one would assume that it was the combination of the flashlight “activity” and the footsteps that made the experience meaningful from a paranormal perspective. But this is disingenuous when there is a clear scientific explanation for the flashlight results, and the footsteps simply happened at the same time. (And from one point of view, might have even been the actual response to the request for a sign of presence, as opposed to the flashlight!)

Yet I can already anticipate a ton of investigators watching that footage, even investigators critical of the show and of TAPS, and drawing the conclusion that this is proof that the “flashlight test” is a valid paranormal investigative method. And it makes me wonder if the team knows that it’s not a valid method, and they use it because it serves the desires of the production company and the entertainment demands.

To be fair, there are TAPS members who express frustration with certain equipment and methods. And given the fact that this is all edited footage, often taken out of context by the post-production crew for the sake of the entertainment value, none of us can say we have the whole story. I still believe that the majority of the TAPS and GHI members are sincerely trying to investigate within the parameters of filming the show.

That said, can we ignore the effect this has on the field as a whole? After all, this is a field where even some of the best investigators can get caught up in discussions and theories of “ghost psychology”, when we still don’t even know what the source of the reported and documented activity is!

Unintentionally long rant aside, that wasn’t the only “evidence” from the investigation. There were a number of personal experiences, and there was the EVP captured in the cupola, which was fairly clear and worth more investigation. But the point of the rant is more or less made during the reveal: the “evidence” that gets the most reaction from the client is the most questionable.


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